November 18, 2011
Don’t Blame JoePa
In the last few days, Penn State University has gone through a whirlwind of media coverage, not because of the resurrection of their football team’s greatness, but because of a scandal that happened almost 15 years ago. In 1997, one of the coaches that worked under the legendary Joe Paterno, was found naked in the showers with a ten year old boy by one of the staff members. That staff member told Joe Paterno, who then told his superior. The offending coach was fired and the situation with the child was settled without the media knowing about it and without it being brought to the school board. The case has come to light recently, and Paterno and the president of the school have been fired years removed from when the incident occurred. Joe Paterno is now getting more media fire than the coach that actually sexually assaulted the child, and that is ridiculous.
Joe Paterno did what he was supposed to do in this situation; he followed the chain of command. Information that would have been damaging to the program was brought to his attention by a subordinate. He relayed that information to his superior and waited for a response. Once, he told his boss what happened, his responsibility in the matter was resolved. The media expected him to contact them with a statement, talk to the boy’s family, and take on a personal fight against sexual assault. While this is a terrible incident that happened to a child at his football program, and the young man that was taken advantage of suffered unimaginable emotional trauma from it, Joe Paterno would have been wrong to make the tragedy public. And, no one should have expected Paterno to make that tragic event public, despite it being such a heinous crime.
No one knows if the boy’s family wanted it to be public knowledge that their son had been assaulted. Trying to explain what happened to their son and why it happened him would have been difficult enough for the parents without a full-on media circus. Media coverage of the assault would bring some unwanted attention to the family during one of their most trying times. The parents of the child had to deal with the confused and angry emotions of their child, the subsequent behavior that happens to victims of child abuse, and the emotional rehabilitation of their child. To ask them to answer a myriad of questions about the assault would have been both careless and selfish. Something that is so traumatic should be kept private for the sake of the child.
People also forget that Joe Paterno has a responsibility to the university that employs him and to himself. Paterno was an employee of Penn State University for roughly thirty-five years at the time of the incident. The university, like most division one schools, is dependent on the large revenue that football brings. Blowing the whistle on his own football team would have been suicidal to his career as a coach. First, recruiting would have suffered, because most eighteen year old’s in a testosterone-fueled environment do not want to play for the school that hires sex offenders. Then, the overall talent level of the players would diminish, sending the program into a downward spiral. Once Penn State began to have losing seasons, no one would want to play there. Ultimately, asking Paterno to talk to the media would have been asking him to give up his job. It would started the vitriolic attrition of a program that was nationally respected as a football power. It would have undone all the work and sweat that Paterno has put into the program. How many people are willing to walk away from their life’s work because of the horrifying act of one deviant man?
Joe Paterno is the seminal figure of Penn State University. He has buildings and communal areas in the school named after him. He should not have been fired for not speaking about a tragedy that happened fifteen years ago. Some part of his silence was with the school in mind and all of his actions were in the school’s best interest. Paterno reported the allegations to his superior, removed the coach from the team, and continued to win football games. He should not have been expected to do anything else.
Yes, JoePa Had to Go
Joe Paterno isn’t the scum of the earth like Jerry Sandusky, but he’s not far from it. Yes he performed his legal obligation to alert his direct supervisor of what he heard about the sexual assault in 2002, but he didn’t fulfill his moral obligation. Is it unfair that he bears such responsibility, maybe; but he garners such responsibility considering his position at Penn State University. Let no one be fooled, former athletic director Tim Curley is above Paterno in name only. Paterno runs that athletic program and everything associated with it. If anyone doesn’t think that’s true they don’t know or remember Paterno resisting pleas for him to step down as Penn State struggled mightily in 2003 and 2004. In addition, as head coach of a nationally prominent program, he is paid and obligated to know everything that happens with his program. Essentially it boils down to either he knew what was happening and kept it quiet to not completely destroy the football program, or he made every effort to ensure that he kept his head in the sand concerning Sandusky. What follows are my reasons why Paterno had to go.
-In May of 1998 the university police investigated the report by a parent that Sandusky showered with her 11 year old son. A detective was eavesdropping on the phone line secretly as the mother talked to Sandusky. He admitted to showering with the boy, that it was wrong, and that he wasn’t sure if his private parts touched the boy during the episode. He also said, “I wish I were dead.” It’s impossible for me to believe that Paterno doesn’t somehow hear about potential criminal acts conducted by his then defensive coordinator. Furthermore, Sandusky was actually supposed to replace Paterno once the head coach retired. Interestingly enough, Sandusky was fired by the university in 1999.
-Victim #4 from the grand jury transcript (a middle school aged boy at the time) would spend the night with the football team and Sandusky prior to home games in 1998-1999. Not only that, the boy would sit at the coach’s table during the pregame banquet. So after the events in May of the same year, Sandusky is still allowed to have a child hang around and spend the night with the team? Even if Paterno somehow didn’t know about the shower incident earlier in the year, he had to know about this. Having kids spend the night with the team before games can’t be a regular occurrence at other programs.
-By now everyone knows about what grad assistant Mike McQueary saw in the shower in March of 2002. After McQueary told Paterno, the coach later had a meeting with the athletic director and president. Those officials were made aware of the investigation by university police and child protective services made in 1998 concerning the shower incident. At this point Paterno has heard Sandusky raped a child in the shower, he has witnessed a kid spending the night with the team on several occasions, and he has heard about inappropriate shower events between Sandusky and a minor. At what point does he think to do something like call the police, confront Sandusky, and ban him from school premises? I’m not sure what he thought, but the only punishments handed down on the sick pedophile were: he had his keys to the locker room taken away, and he was told not to bring kids to the locker room any more. Seriously?! To make matters even worse, McQueary was a former quarterback for Penn State. I’m pretty sure his relationship with Paterno was such that they would have discussed the particulars in the matter more than once, and whether or not McQueary had heard anything more from the police or school president.
-To further illustrate Paterno’s ridiculous pattern of handling such situations, back in 2003 he allowed former player, Anwar Phillips, to participate in the Capital One Bowl despite Phillips admitting to sexually assaulting another student just 3 weeks earlier.
-Sandusky was barred from a second school district in 2008 for questionable behavior with a minor. Despite this and all of the other claims brought against him, Paterno and his bunch still allowed Sandusky to use to team’s facilities to exercise as late as one week prior to him being arrested.
-Paterno’s less than empathetic first comments when the situation became national news, “The kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. It’s a tough life when people do certain things to you.” Is that the most he could muster? It’s almost insulting to the victims.
-He holds a pep rally in front of his house as the university is working to limit potential collateral damage.
-Paterno’s brazen comments concerning his job status two days prior to being terminated, “…I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.” He made those comments on a Wednesday knowing the board was meeting Friday to discuss his employment. Nice of him to tell the trustees what they should be doing. Maybe if he would have told the police to do something ten years ago he would still be employed by Penn State. It’s obvious to me that Paterno may not have sexually assaulted any children, but was somewhat of an accomplice to the crimes. He deserved to be fired, nothing can convince me otherwise.